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Military Coffin Photos Stir Debate

President Obama said last week he is considering lifting the Bush Administration ban on photographing or televising the arrival home of coffins of fallen U.S. war dead.

The article on this by Ann Scott Tyson and Mark Berman has reopened a fierce debate among our Readers Who Comment. Those with both military and civilian backgrounds are fairly evenly divided. Bush-administration haters applaud the possibility the ban could be reversed and some of them push the war-crimes trial agenda, which David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey oppose in an op-ed today.

The media are excoriated both for not having sufficiently opposed and covered the War on Terror in the first place and for wanting to create overwrought spectacle coverage if the weekly landings at Dover Air Force Base are opened up. This is another reminder that the emotions surrounding the War on Terror and how it has been both conducted and journalistically portrayed will be with us for years.

We'll start with Fjet2020, who wrote, "Allowing Americans to see the coffins is not exploitation, but hiding them from view is... We honor the fallen by seeing, and remembering, their sacrifice."

But jeeemusna said, "I have already served a purpose. Don't use my death to further your political motives."

altruisticone wrote, "We Americans should never be shielded from the costs of sending our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, to war. Especially those who benefit directly from its costs yet have invested nothing."

MrMerkin charged that "For eight years the press was almost complicit with the Bush administration... Now it wants to make a cause celebre out of caskets at Dover?... why wasn't the press more vigorous in defending its rights vs. Bush/Cheney? Why didn't the press work harder to pursue impeachment charges..."

babs1 wrote, "I would be for lifting the ban except for the sickening thought that news reporters would shove a microphone in the faces of the fallen warrior's family, chase them to get a statement on "what's going through your mind right now?" - and the usual idiotic comments that news reporters make..."

jhbyer responded, "babs1, your concerns about the families at Dover being aggressively rushed by the media are well-taken. The media before the ban were escorted by armed Military Police into a cordoned off area, from where they could film the ceremony, then escorted off the base... non military personnel aren't allowed to run "loose" thank goodness."

tmurt said, "Photographs, week after week, of flag-draped coffins will likely cause a serious decline in US morale. Of course we have the right to see it, but the question is do we want to see it?"

sarahabc wrote, "...It will not be a political move allowing these photos to be seen. It was very much a political move forbidding them to be seen. That should be corrected now."

warneranderson wrote, "I have 2 tours in Iraq as a physician and soldier... Should I die due to violence, or even natural causes there, I find it offensive, petty and over reaching of the media and some politicians that my "flag-draped casket" should be some media affair, instead of a private and dignified return to my family, friends and native soil..."

But agolembe said, "Warneranderson, I am a recent military retiree and I disagree with you. It's not up to the military where they are sent or how they are returned. I guess you have such disrespect for American citizens you don't trust them to be able to mourn for fallen military."

ponderer wrote, "Why is the assumption that it must be no coverage, no images or media frenzy? Are reasonable, thoughtful citizens not capable of something in between?"

SmileySam said, "The DoD should not being deciding what news or photos the American Public sees or reads. It's nothing but their fear of the media and how the reality of dead Americans affect our War Policys. Do we have a Free Press in the US or Not ?"

OldManTalking wrote, "As a retired military man who fought in Vietnam, I welcome the pictures of the Fallen, their coffins are symbols of everything I beleived in then and now, that I would willingly die for my country. Why silence their greatest sacrifice?"

hquain wrote, "Couple these pictures of the uselessly dead with the emerging information about what "harsh interrogation techniques" actually consist of (such as "rape with instrumentality") and this obscenity will soon be over."

To which AverageJane replied, "No soldier ever died "uselessly", they serve a very vital purpose, the war may be useless, the soldier who gave his or her life in it is priceless. Their job isn't to question the purpose of a war, if it was, there would be no defense of a cause, ever."

We'll close with gce1356, who wrote, "The true costs of war are not pretty. Attempting to cover them up by not publishing photos of coffins and trying to sanitize the issue, as the Bush administration did, only deceives us all."

All comments on this article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  February 17, 2009; 6:31 AM ET
Categories:  Iraq , Journalism , Military , Obama , Terrorism  | Tags: Afghanistan, Iraq, Journalism, Military, Obama, Terrorism  
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